Whew, recently got back from my stint as an embedded game journalist in Yslandia, where I observed the culture and daily routine of its inhabitants. I’m ready to report on the quality of their world, and I must say it was a wild ride — in a very good way!
As I wrote after my previous foray into this MMORPG’s world, Yslandia is undergoing one of the more turbulent phases of its history at this very moment. The races inhabiting its two populated islands – Baahla in the west and Saznec in the east – have banded into separate alliances and begun much saber rattling over the prospect of claiming Glida, Yslandia’s deserted central island. I spent a bit of time holed up on Saznec with the Simeh’a Alliance, but I must admit I found great kinship with the misunderstood tribes of Baahla’s Zaa’me Coalition as I participated in their exotic monster-slaying rituals, and thus spent the majority of my time there.
The gods who run Yslandia have decreed that all inhabitants can have three identities active simultaneously, so I would encourage new players to check out life on both islands before choosing one to stick with over the long haul. The first strong impression that hit me was just how culturally and aesthetically distinct each island is. It becomes apparent during the first training session the player completes before being let loose into the world: life on Saznec is sugar-coated and generally friendly while inhabitants of Baahla can look forward to being whipped into shape. The game’s story is generally light, with details regarding Yslandia’s wider history and especially its curious religious traditions sprinkled throughout NPC-offered quests.
While I clothed myself in the Shaman’s beastskin during most of my time in Yslandia, players can choose from 18 unique classes, with the expected differences in stat balance and special skills. Sadly there’s no appearance customization within the chosen character class – no gender choice or equipment appearance changes, for example – but the gods have informed fans that future updates will bestow “glory auras” on players so that they may bask in the evidence of specific accomplishments as they wander the game world.
Yslandia‘s user interface is what every iPhone RPG should strive to capture: big context-sensitive virtual buttons, user-defined hotlinks to items and skills that can be created and trashed at will, and a virtual joystick that proves its superiority over other movement options any day of the week. All progress is saved on-the-fly, so the player can jump back into the real world at any time.
I did notice a few kinks in the controls early on, namely in the touch sensitivity department: bringing up and collapsing the in-game Chat menu felt really wonky, and the game seemed to confuse taps meant to target smaller enemies with Tap-and-Go movement. However, these issues magically resolved themselves in a way that I can’t attribute to simple familiarization with the game’s controls — a clue that the gods are capable of making server-side updates that instantly address important gameplay issues. This should come much to the relief of iDevice gamers used to waiting for downloadable updates that take ages to appear in the Appstore.
As noted in our preview, a run option or at least some form of swift shortcut for long distance travel is still needed in Yslandia. The one other long-term interface shortcoming I experienced is the iPod Touch’s natural limitation in the text typing department, since I’m rather unhandy when it comes to pecking out messages on virtual keyboards.
And peck out a lot of messages, I did. To say that the Chat window is the heart and soul of Yslandia‘s interface may sound trite but it’s absolutely true judging from my experience as one of the game world’s inhabitants. Yslandia is, first and foremost, a social and cooperative experience — a fact heavily reinforced by gameplay systems that reward cooperative adventuring and inhibit individual forays. For example, achieving a certain experience level is a rite of passage every player must reach on his or her character’s starting island before heading to Glida for Player-vs-Player contests. Slaying entire mobs of monsters – either during breaks from NPC-given quests or as an integral part of completing them – is the most efficient means of accomplishing this. Monsters stop yielding experience if they’re six or so levels below the player’s character, and yet it’s impossible to take on mobs of comparable-level monsters by oneself. Therefore it’s naturally advantageous to band together with a Guild to organize group monster hunts and quest completion — and everyone in a local hunting band shares the experience points to boot.